Leeks are a member of the onion family. They display their best flavor when they are harvested young and fairly small.
In the Mediterranean and in Europe leeks have been used for many years. It’s a fairly new food in the American scene. The most common use of leeks is in soups. They have a more subtle and sweet flavor than a standard onion.
The most famous dish that features the leek is vichyssoise. This is a cold pureed leek and potato soup. Chef Louis Diat in New York City’s Ritz Carlton Hotel created the soup around 1900.
Leeks should be straight and firm with dark green leaves and white bulbs. The bulb should be truly white with no bruises or cracks for the best quality. Fresh leeks should be stored in the refrigerator unwashed and untrimmed. They can be stored this way for one to two weeks.
Cleaning the leek is very important. They are virtually traps for dirt and sand. There are two basic ways to clean leeks. Cut off the dark green leaves and toss them. Trim the root ends. You want to leave the base intact in this method of cleaning. You begin about inch from the bulb base and slit the leek through the other end. Turn it one quarter and repeat the process. Once the leek is quartered and still intact you want to soak it in cold water. After a 20-minute soaking carefully open the leaves and rinse out any remaining grit.
If you just need chopped leeks you can cut the leeks in strips and wash them in a bowl of cold water. The dirt will gather to the bottom.
If you are choosing to serve leeks as a side dish the biggest pitfall is overcooking. Overcooked they have been described as a slimy pile of mush. This is probably not what you’d like your guest’s to describe. They should be cooked until just tender, but offer some resistance when pierced with a fork.
There is some controversy about the use of raw leeks in salads, but I quite enjoy them. Salads where raw onions are used are another good place to introduce leeks. Raw leeks add a little different flavor. They make an interesting twist in a fresh salsa as well.
Bouget garni in soups are also a great way to use leeks. There are several spices and herbs that marry well with leeks. You may want to try sage, mustard, cheivil, parsley, basil and thyme.
If you had not tried a little leek why not give a shot the next time you go to the market. Variety is a good thing.